In years gone by, I always liked to write my final summary of ICAST lounging around in the sun with something cold to drink in the hot and humid calm after the storm. This year, I experienced ICAST mostly from my dining room, and the weather was less than ideal over here in Blighty. It was a very different ICAST experience for all of us, but probably the best thing to come out of all this is that we learned a lot as an industry. I certainly learned a few things, especially about how dedicated and determined this industry is to succeed. Like any year and any trade show, there were wins and losses. As an online show, some things worked really well – even better than at a normal ICAST – and some things did not. Here’s my take…

WIN: New Product Showcase

This was very slick. The products were easy to find and there was much more information supplied with each one than in a normal year. Okay, so we couldn’t pick the items up and feel them, which is quite important with certain product categories such as line. But at a normal New Product Showcase, does 30 seconds of holding something realistically inform your decision that well? Probably not.

The fact I could spend all day weighing up my decisions definitely helped, as did being able to vote with the click of my mouse. I wonder, could we have online voting in future editions even when things get back to normal? It’s a lot easier than a pen and voting form.

LOSS: The Social

The booth happy hours, the after-show parties, the dinner meetings; the social side of ICAST was probably the hardest miss for everyone this year. Social distancing for many of us meant being in different states and even different countries to some of our long-lost industry friends that we often only see once a year. There’s not much the ASA or the exhibitors could have done about this, but it makes me sad to think of how many impromptu deals (and fishing trips) were not arranged this year. I hope you made the effort to have a virtual catch-up with those guys and gals you missed the most.

WIN: Collateral Collection

Every year at ICAST, I’d return home with a suitcase stuffed with catalogues, brochures, USB sticks and the occasional freebie product, all of which was great. But it was nice to be able to quickly and easily access the information, images and other bits and pieces I needed via the exhibitors’ virtual booths. Many exhibitors really took advantage of this by producing videos to do the informing job for them. I liked this a lot and hope the focus on digital media kits and collateral continues to grow in future shows.

LOSS: The Buzz

There’s no escaping that it’s pretty hard to get excited about a new product when you can’t get your hands on it and really see how it works for yourself. It’s just not the same. Sure, we buy plenty of products having not actually touched them throughout the year, but at ICAST there’s always that one special item that you’re initially skeptical about and instantly converted to a believer of the moment you pick it up. That buzz, that anticipation, that feeling was just missing this year.

Once you’re into your fourth Zoom meeting of the day, it’s only natural that your enthusiasm will wane. However, I did like the pre-recorded videos that could be watched at any time. These could become a permanent fixture of ICASTs yet to come.

WIN: Time and energy

We all saved a bunch of travel expense this year, that’s for sure (my liver is also thanking me for spending way less on alcohol this week than in normal years). That was an obvious win, but so was the time we saved. I was able to spend a few hours working solidly in back-to-back meetings and then just got up from my desk, closed the door and I was home. ICAST also normally completely destroys my feet and legs, no matter how comfortable the shoes I have on are. This year, instead of miles and miles of show floor walked, the only thing in danger of aching was my back from sitting at the desk too long.

LOSS: The Extras

ICAST has gotten really good at making its show much more than just a trade show in recent years. Successful additions like ICAST On the Water, the fishing tournaments, the golf tournaments – some of these add-ons have become almost as important as the show itself for many. Hopefully the lack of them this year will only increase hunger for them to return, and in greater numbers. One add-on that was very much present for this online edition was the seminars. A full schedule of both business and conservation seminars and presentations were enjoyed by good numbers.

WIN: Talking to those who matter

On an average ICAST year, I reckon I get told the person I really want to speak to “is busy in a meeting and to come back later” close to a hundred times. It’s the nature of the beast; people are busy. But this year, you could get direct access to those important folks via either interactive seminars and webinars, or via the ICAST Online chat function. This instant and easy contact with the people you wanted to speak to and ask questions of was a very welcome change.

When all is said and done this ICAST, along with a lot of things in 2020, will live long in the memory. Not necessarily for all the right reasons, but I’m impressed with what was put on and I think there a plenty of takeaways we can all learn from. I really, really, REALLY hope to see you in Orlando next year.